Ontario’s Integrity Commissioner has concluded there are “insufficient grounds” to open a probe of whether the attendance of developers or lobbyists at both Premier Doug Ford’s daughter’s wedding and a party at his home before the nuptials last summer broke the rules that govern MPPs.
J. David Wake issued a short report on Thursday, declining to investigate a complaint that Opposition NDP Leader Marit Stiles made earlier this year after media reports said developers and lobbyists attended the wedding last September and had purchased $150 tickets to a “stag-and-doe” party held a month beforehand.
However, the report points out that one lobbyist acting for clients who saw land removed from the protected Greenbelt last fall had attended the stag-and-doe, with a ticket that came from the governing Progressive Conservative Party’s chief fundraiser.
The report was issued just hours before Mr. Ford, in a surprise climbdown, reversed his decision to open parts of the Greenbelt land for housing development. The issue of the government’s close ties to developers – who stood to gain a collective $8.3-billion from the opening of the lands in question – has dogged it for weeks, prompting two cabinet ministers to resign.
Opposition politicians have asked, citing recent land transactions, whether some developers knew in advance about the Greenbelt removals. The Ontario Provincial Police has referred the matter to the RCMP to decide whether to launch an investigation. Mr. Ford has denied anyone in his government tipped off landowners.
In his report, the Integrity Commissioner says the information provided by Ms. Stiles in her complaint did not meet the legal bar for opening a full investigation of whether the wedding or the pre-wedding party broke conflict-of-interest rules.
He also says he did not uncover sufficient evidence in his recently concluded investigation of Mr. Ford’s former housing minister, Steve Clark, to launch a probe into the two social events.
Mr. Clark resigned after Mr. Wake concluded he had broken ethics rules by failing to oversee the process of selecting the land pulled out of the Greenbelt, a process the province’s then-auditor-general called “biased” for favouring certain developers. Mr. Wake had put the wedding and stag-and-doe review on hold while he investigated Mr. Clark – ultimately recommending a legislative reprimand for him late last month.
On Thursday, Opposition politicians called Mr. Wake’s revelation that Tony Miele, the chair of the PC Ontario Fund, sold tickets for the pre-wedding party a red flag.
“It is absolutely astonishing that the head of fundraising for the PC Party of Ontario sold tickets directly to developers for a fundraiser to benefit members of the Ford family,” interim Liberal Leader John Fraser said in a statement. “That is just simply wrong in anybody’s books. It’s clear that Doug Ford has no shame.”
The report discloses that Mr. Miele told the Integrity Commissioner that the Premier’s now son-in-law had asked him to sell about 20 tickets to the stag-and-doe.
Mr. Wake, in his report, says he finds this “interesting.” But he says Mr. Miele told him he is a friend of the Ford family and that he agreed to sell the tickets “to help the couple and that his involvement was wholly unrelated to his duties on behalf of the Fund.”
Among those who bought those tickets, the report says, was developer and PC fundraiser Sergio Manchia, whose 10-acre parcel in Hamilton was among the 15 properties removed from the Greenbelt. Mr. Manchia bought four tickets, and gave them to a colleague, Matt Johnston, who attended the event and said only a “quick hello” to Mr. Ford.
Mr. Johnston was acting as a planner for the owners of 78 acres in Grimsby that were also among the properties removed from the Greenbelt a few months later. Last October, he had made formal requests for both plots of land to be taken out of the Greenbelt and discussed them with Mr. Clark’s then-chief of staff, Ryan Amato, the report says, who has also resigned in the wake of the scandal.
The report also dismisses the notion that prominent developer Shakir Rehmatullah, who attended both the stag-and-doe and the wedding and had land removed from the Greenbelt, was tipped off by Mr. Ford for attending these events, calling the idea “fanciful.”
However, the report still raises the possibility that Mr. Rehmatullah knew in advance of the Greenbelt policy change, which broke years of promises not to touch the area: “Although he maintained that no one in government alerted him to the fact that the government was considering changes to the Greenbelt boundary, I found his evidence questionable.”
Mr. Rehmatullah is the developer who was vacationing in Las Vegas in 2020 at the same time as two senior aides to Mr. Ford at the time and MPP Kaleed Rasheed. Mr. Rasheed resigned Wednesday from the PC caucus and cabinet after he acknowledged providing incorrect information about the trip to the Integrity Commissioner.